Morrisons is a 'supertanker heading for an iceberg'

The supermarket's former property director Roger Owen has said Ant & Dec and 'misty' vegetables were terrible ideas and CEO Dalton Philips and chairman Sir Ian Gibson should go.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 25 Feb 2015

When a company is going through a rocky patch, all kinds of things, good and bad, tend to come crawling out of the woodwork. For beleaguered supermarket Morrisons it is their ex-property director Roger Owen, who has decided to speak out from retirement to try and save the company from what he sees as its impending doom.

The retailer is a ‘supertanker heading for an iceberg’, Owen told The Yorkshire Post, calling for chief exec Dalton Philips and chairman Sir Ian Gibson to stand down.

Morrisons has been battling falling market share (as have rivals Tesco, Sainsburys and Asda) as Aldi and Lidl snap up cash-conscious shoppers and Waitrose corners the middle class. Philips clearly knows he needs to do something drastic, announcing a £1bn programme of price cuts after reporting a £176m annual pre-tax loss last month.

However, investors have not been convinced: shares have fallen more than 24% so far this year to an eight-year low.

Source: Yahoo Finance

Owen, who was property director for 22 years until he retired in 2009, was not impressed with Philips’ plan either. ‘They are a team with butterfly minds,’ he said of the senior management. ‘They go from flower to flower and get nowhere.’

Sir Ken Morrison was, on the other hand, ‘the king of the butterflies and didn’t flutter’ (a rather mixed metaphor), although Owen insisted he wasn’t speaking for the former chairman, whose family still owns around 10% of the company. Owen himself has 90,000 shares (more than 2.6 million shares had been traded by midday today, to put that in context).

Owen also questioned the profits to be made in online shopping and convenience stores, two areas where Morrisons has desperately been trying to make up for lost time, and called the Ant & Dec marketing campaign ‘lunacy’ (not a fan of I’m a Celeb then…). The supermarket’s US-imported practice of ‘misty’ vegetables (keeping produce fresh with dry ice-created chilly moisture clouds), which Morrisons has been trying out for the last couple of years, creates rot and waste, Owen added.

Morrisons can fight off Aldi and Lidl like it took on KwikSave in the 1990s, the retiree argued. ‘We have got the winner against any of these: it is called product range - it’s massive… So why be frightened? Take them on,’ Owen said.

Strong words, which provoked an ice-cold response from the supermarket. ‘Judging modern retailing through the lens of the past is never very enlightening. These are unhelpful and unwelcome comments reflecting a different era in retailing.’

Owen ‘might be better served taking more of a thoughtful view of his role as a director of a board that left Morrisons, uniquely among the big grocers, with no online and no convenience offer,’ said Morrisons. Miaow.

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